My friend Rick linked to an article by Kevin DeYoung about why his church switched to the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Throughout the article, he compared the ESV with the once-ubiquitous (in the evangelical world) NIV. As you may know, the ESV follows the translation philosophy called “formal equivalence,” the same as the King James, RSV, and NASB. In fact, the ESV is itself a revision of the RSV text. The goal is, as much as possible, to preserve the original order of words from the original manuscripts. The NIV uses the “dynamic equivalence” philosophy, which goes thought for thought.
DeYoung argued for the formal equivalence philosophy, arguing that it allowed the reader more access to the original. A comment on Rick’s post linked to an article by the commenter, which made some interesting points as well. One point that he made was that the ESV preserved “archaic words”:
When was the last time you heard anyone use any of the following words in everyday conversation: manslayer, beloved, behold, kindred, O, abhor, abide, abode, adjure, ascribe, chide, confute, convocation, counsel (as both a noun and a verb), entreat, exult, festal, haughty, invoke, kin, ordain, portent, rail (as a verb), rend, revile, sated, shall, smitten, sojourn, stripes, or swaddling? The average person simply does not speak this way anymore. This is “Christianese.” If you have heard these words, chances are it was in a church setting or on Christian radio. Translations should make the meaning of God’s Word clear. God ordained that the NT would be written in Koine, i.e. common Greek. I submit that the ESV is not Koine English.
As Allan Chapple has written, “Something more substantial than style or taste is at stake here, therefore. In my judgment, unacceptable consequences flow from the ESV’s choice of language. In practice, it is an elitist translation. As such, it may well be ‘user-friendly’ for the highly literate. It may also be preferred by older Christians, for whom it will satisfy any lingering nostalgia for the RSV. But I doubt that it will be easily understood by believers under thirty-five or so, especially if they come from an unchurched background and have not already been enculturated into ‘church-speak’. If they have to use the ESV regularly, such people will need to learn two ‘languages’: the great words that speak of who God is and what he has done for us—and ‘high-English’ or ‘olde-English’. They will be glad to learn the first; they should not need to learn the second.” I think Chapple overstates his case, but there is truth in his words.
This would seem to be an important consideration, but I’m not convinced by his point. To me, it would turn on what level of writing the koine was. Did it have difficult words as well? Would dropping the “church-speak” water down the translation too much?
I don’t know much about translation, so I’m curious to know what others think. Also, what philosophies do Catholic and Orthodox translations tend to take, or are there are diversity of those as well?
You can find links to DeYoung’s and the commenter’s articles at Rick’s blog post that I linked to above.